Pitfalls in Fighter Force Planning

by Benjamin S. Lambeth

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This paper suggests that the recent debate over "quality vs. quantity" in U.S. tactical fighter modernization is misleading: The real issue is how much "quality," across what performance spectrum and in what force mix, numerical strength, and sustainability are required to provide the desired mission-effectiveness for most plausible scenarios at an affordable cost? To counter excessively technical threat portrayals that can yield serious imbalances between perceived operational "requirements" and actual needs, the author examines four recurrent mistakes made in requirements generation: (1) confusing numbers with strength, (2) confusing technical sophistication with mission effectiveness, (3) ignoring the human factor, and (4) generating scenario-specific requirements. He concludes that a broader conception of the threat and likely combat environments might afford more rational force mixes, greater availability, and better employment doctrines than those produced by existing approaches to force design.

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